In draft-floor interview, newest Buffalo Bills QB E.J. Manuel says his visit to Buffalo might have been the clincher

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NEW YORK – E.J. Manuel was the first — and only — quarterback taken on Day 1 of the 2013 NFL draft.

And he’s the first ever selected by the Buffalo Bills with their first pick –  in any of the franchise’s 54 drafts! Seriously.

“I had a great feeling about Buffalo,” the 6-foot-4 5/8, 237-pound native of Virginia Beach, Va., said in an interview in a side hallway of Radio City Music Hall.

“I thought when I met with them I was able to show them my football intellect, and what I could do on and off the field. And I think they trust me to come in and represent them as they want me to, as far as the whole franchise.”

Most people figured the quarterback-desperate Bills would pick a signal-caller, but the club got creative in doing so.

The Bills started the day with only six picks — not enough to fill all their yawning holes.

But in swapping first-rounders with the St.Louis Rams (Buffalo gave up its No. 8 and gained St. Louis’ first, 16th overall), the Bills also picked up a second-rounder (46th) and a seventh-rounder (222nd) from the Rams. The Bills also swapped third-rounders with St. Louis — their 71st for the Rams’ 78th.

It was with the 16th pick that the Bills selected Manuel.

Bills GM Buddy Nix was under immense pressure to draft a quarterback early and give the moribund franchise –which hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999, the longest drought in the league — some hope for the future.

Why Manuel — a Florida State product — over the more highly touted Ryan Nassib, Matt Barkely and Geno Smith?

“We felt like we knew them about as well as you could from a distance,” Nix told Buffalo reporters. “This guy, to us, has got the upside to be whatever you want him to be.

“We researched him every way you can and we just feel good about the upside.”

Manuel, 23, has a strong arm and quick delivery. He’s fast, too, and is a natural leader.

He said his pre-draft visit to Buffalo might have sealed it.

“I met with (offensive coordinator Nathaniel) Hackett probably for four or five hours,” he told me. “I thought he and I got along great. I learned his offence probably for four hours, and I understood everything, even not knowing if they were going to take me or not.

“I think that said a lot about myself to him.

“What he was teaching me is very similar to what I learned at Florida State. The biggest difference is this is going to be a pure progression offence, which I’m extremely excited about to play in.”

Did he run much hurry-up with the Seminoles?

“Yeah, we did some hurry-up offence, and I saw Ryan Nassib have some success with that at Syracuse. I plan on doing the same thing in Buffalo.”

Manuel said being the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft is quite an honour.

“It feels great,” he told me, wearing the biggest smile. “To see where people were saying I was going to go back in January, to now being the first quarterback taken — it’s incredible. I knew I just had to go out and work hard. And I did it not by myself. I had a great team. My agent (Joshua Hare) did a great job. Everybody helped to train me to get into a position to do this.

“I knew I had to earn the respect of these guys who have these opinions on TV, so I just went out there and worked hard and it happened.”

For instance, heading into the scouting combine in Indianapolis in late February, NFL Network’s draft expert Mike Mayock did not rate Manuel among the Top 5 quarterbacks. Two weeks later, on March 7, Mayock raised Manuel to No. 2, behind only Smith, based on how much Manuel impressed NFL people both on the field and off.

I was the first reporter to get Manuel’s reaction that day, catching him at an airport in Tampa. He sounded pleased, but not surprised that his stock was rising, nor bitter that he’d been largely overlooked before that.

At his news conference here about an hour and a half after the Bills selected him, Manuel was still grinning a lot. Who can blame him?

Manuel explained that he couldn’t help but shed a tear when he went out on stage to get his jersey and cap from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

“I was telling myself I’m not going to cry, because my parents are definitely emotional people,” he told reporters. “I was thinking about what we’ve gone through with my Mom, what she’s battled through (cancer). But I just started thinking about all the hard work my parents have done and myself, and my sister, and all of it coming together tonight. It was just a great feeling.”

Manuel’s mother has battled breast cancer. She is still taking radiation treatments but, Manuel said she’s “in remission. She’s cancer-free right now … Her hair’s growing back and she’s starting to look like herself. I’m proud and happy for her, and I know she’s ecstatic right now.”

She was in attendance with other family members here at New York, which Manuel said meant the world.

It was strange, wasn’t it?, that most draftniks did not give Manuel a first-round grade, yet he was invited to be here along with 22 other prospects. And then he was taken 16th.

I asked him if that gave him the hint that good news might come out of it.

“I think so, whether it was going to be first or second round. Besides the first round, I was more so happy to have my family here. To allow us to come here and enjoy this together as a family. I’d rather be here than Virginia Beach. Where else would you want to be but New York City for the draft?”

I asked him if either Nix or Marrone told him anything about being able to compete for the starting job.

“It wasn’t really brought up,” Manuel said. “Obviously, they invest a first-round pick in you and trade up to take you, you obviously know what it is. Sorry, I’m just excited now. I’m at a loss for words right now. I’m just looking forward to getting there and shaking their hands and getting started and getting ready to go to work.”

On competing with Kevin Kolb, he said: “I’m looking forward to learning from him. He’s been in the league four, five, six years now. He’s a great quarterback. They brought him in. Looking forward to learning from those guys. I feel like we’re all learning from day one because of the training camp we have.”

Told that the Bills fanbase is rabid, Manuel smiled — again.

“Happy to have this hat on — red, white and blue. I’m excited. That’s all I can say right now.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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